Shooting portraits on-location can give you terrific results. If the light is right things are a snap, but what happens when we have less than ideal conditions? With a bit of knowledge, and the right tools, you can even shoot outside at almost any time of day. A few months ago I was faced with a challenge. I needed to shoot a portrait using soft light the harsh desert light at mid-day. The light was absolutely horrible. Here’s how I tackled the issues.
Step One: Control the Ambient Light.
The first thing I do when shooting on-location is to control the ambient light as much as possible. In this scenario I was shooting in an area with no shade at all. I set up a large translucent umbrella to shade my model. This softened the light and also took my exposure on the model down by about one stop. You can see in this photo that my model is in shade but the background is still in the sun.
I used my light meter to find the correct exposure for the background. In my test shot you can see that the background is exposed properly but my model is underexposed. An underexposed model means I would be able to use my flash to shape the light hitting her. This was shot at ISO 100, 1/200 @ f/11.
Step Two: Add a Flash
To give the portrait a more natural look I added a flash. The flash was positioned camera-right so the shadows would match those on the background. I adjusted the power of my flash until it metered at f/11 to match the background exposure.
I used a Profoto Acute B2 with a Disc Reflector. Although the exposure is correct you can clearly see that the light is too hard. There is a distinct shadow under my model’s chin. This is exactly the look we were trying to avoid.
Step 3: Shape the Light
To get rid of the hard light under my model’s chin I simply added a small softbox to my flash. This softened and diffused the light to give me a more pleasing look
With the softbox added you can see that the hard shadow has been eliminated. But you can also see that there is a bit of light fall-off toward our model’s legs.
To get more even light across my model’s entire body I used a larger light modifier. I chose a 7 foot octobox to give me nice soft light from head to toe.
With the ocotobox added I was almost finished. The light looks pretty good. It’s soft, balanced with the ambient light, and consistent across the model’s body. But I wasn’t satisfied with the shadows opposite my key light.
Step 4: Add a Reflector
To give my image a bit more punch I added a silver reflector opposite the key light. I had my assistant direct the light toward my model’s hair.
Below is the final image with the silver reflector added. The added light from the reflector really helps to separate the model from the background.
If you want to learn even more about mixing strobes with ambient light, sign up for our webinar on this very topic.
The webinar will take place on January 22 at 7PM CET (10AM Los Angeles, 1PM New York, 6PM London, 7PM Paris, +2AM Beijing, +3AM Tokyo, +5AM Sydney).
You can see Mark’s On-Location Light & Lighting workshop on Vimeo.
You can see more of Mark’s workshops by clicking here.